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April 12, 2013

12:08
P.M.

Carolyn Hax Live: Advice columnist tackles your problems (Friday, April 12)

Total Responses: 25

About the hosts

About the host

Host: Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997 as a weekly feature for The Washington Post, accompanied by the work of "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis. The column has since gone daily and into syndication, where it appears in over 200 newspapers. Carolyn joined The Post in 1992 as a copy editor in Style, and became a news editor before turning to writing full-time. She is the author of "Tell Me About It" (Miramax, 2001), and the host of a live online discussion on Fridays at noon on washingtonpost.com. She lives in New England with her husband and their three boys.

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About the topic

In her daily column in The Washington Post Style section, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. Hax is an ex-repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

Carolyn was online Friday, April 12, at Noon ET, taking your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

Got more to say? Check out Carolyn's forum, home of the Hax-Philes and Hax fans. Comments submitted to the chat may be used in the discussion group.

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Q.

Carolyn Hax :

Hi everybody, happy Friday.

Q.

torn between husband and son

Our son wants to join the military and his dad is vehemently against it. It is causing a lot of anguish in our household. Our son agreed to attend college for a year and postpone talking about it. The school year is up and he still wants to join. He is a legal adult now and we all know it. I know my husband's attitude is rooted in fear for his child and I share that fear. However, I think my son should be able to make his own choices and live his own life. It is very stressful for his siblings (he is the oldest) and it is straining our marriage. How do we get across this bridge with our family intact?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Why hasn't your son just enlisted? 

If he'd be willing to consider it, I suggest marriage counseling, or a reputable marriage seminar, for you and your husband. While I can understand any parent's strong feelings about what's best for a child, and certainly strong fear of harm, this fight is in its second year about a kid who's committed to an honorable path and is no longer a minor. That I cannot understand, because it has become a serious boundary problem. Your husband had his say and secured your son's cooperation with a cooling-off year. The only emotionally healthy response at this point is to thank him for waiting, reiterate any remaining concerns and assure him that he'll support his right to make his own choices, even if he objects to the choices themselves.

One thing you can do in the meantime is explain to your husband that he has made his views very plain, to the point where repeating them won't change his son's mind, might encourage him to dig in on the idea whether he believes in it fully or not, and will surely risk harm to the father-son relationship, if it hasn't already.  

 

– April 12, 2013 12:14 PM
Q.

are kids just an uberhobby?

Ok, that topic line was intentionally provocative, but it's a crude way of asking my real question. Which is: can you have a serious hobby that you're passionate about while also raising children? Are children, in terms of time management, the One Hobby to Rule Them All? I'm a woman about to turn 30 and newly married. I spent my 20s networking, building a wonderful group of friends, paying my dues in my career field, dating my husband for four years, and partying. I now have a great job with amazing hours, and I'm less interested in partying/networking on weeknights, so in my free time I've been pursuing dance, an interest I came to in my 20s but am just now able, physically, to really explore. It's honestly the first time I've been truly passionate about something besides my friends/family or my city. Being newly married and about to enter my 30s, I also think about when I'll want to have children, and I see on the horizon a choice between my love of dance and my ability to be a good mom. Because I'm not a professional, it has to remain a hobby. It doesn't seem possible to have a serious artistic pursuit while being a (present, not selfish) mother, at least for the first 5 (10?) years. If I'm going to have kids, which would need to be in the next 5 years, before my gonads get all dusty, do I need to be prepared to say goodbye to what has become an important, fulfilling part of my life?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

I'm answering this despite what "dusty gonads" will do to various desktop lunches.

The superficial answer is that kids don't wipe everything off your calendar and priority lists and replace it with kids, kids, kids.

The more practical answer is that it depends on how many hours per week your hobby needs to remain viable and fulfilling, and on the other variables in your life, like how time-consuming and stressful your and your spouse's jobs are; how close you live to family and/or how able you are financially to pay for help; how many children you plan to have; how high- or low-need those kids turn out to be, etc.

someone with a houseful of high-need kids and tight budgets and few local relatives and a high value on being available to your kids during scarce non-work hours isn't going to be able to pop out to the dance studio four times a week, not unless your spouse is able and willing to absorb those absences for you. It's not the most politic answer but it's an honest one based on possible variables. If instead you have a small family and/or an easy-going one, and access to child care, and one or both parents can be flexible with work, and and and, then you can have kids and barely dent your dedication to your hobby. 

Some of these you can control and some you can't, so concentrate on the ones you can, anticipate the ones you can't and see how you feel. The main thing you want here is not to be unpleasantly surprised, since that's early stage resentment.

– April 12, 2013 12:27 PM
Q.

Help, my college freshman daughter is coming home

My daughter is almost done with her freshman year of college, which she spent in a city far from home. I adore my daughter but am dreading the summer when she returns to our house. In every visit home so far, she's been incredibly negative and hurtful to everyone in the house. She doesn't have a single kind thing to say, and she has a repeating mantra of how much she hates the hometown, our house, and pretty much everything she sees. She complains about every action or inaction of every member of the house as though we set out to make her miserable. (FWIW, I've tried to get her screened for depression but she refuses, and she seems much more pleasant and positive when away at college.) I'd like to talk to her about limiting the griping when she gets home, but she tends to take comments like that as proof that no one loves her, no one understands her, etc., and react accordingly. And I think the pain she feels while she engages in that fantasy is real, even though she's very mistaken about our feelings for her, so I'm reluctant to inflict it. On the other hand, I'm not super excited to spend the summer being harangued, or organizing my life to try to please an un-please-able person. So: do I speak up proactively, or take it moment by moment, or figure this is her last summer home and suck it up? And if I do speak up, how would you suggest I couch the message?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

My first thought is that this summer might be different; freshman year usually involves a huge leap in maturity. (Usually. Backsliding also possible.)

If you have reason to believe she's going to come home angry, why don;t you shock her by understanding her? Call her, engage her on the subject, say you've been thinking about this coming summer and wondering what she'd like to get out of it. "I can see how you feel about your hometown, and how much happier you seem to be at school. What can I do to help?" That will go even better if you already have in mind what you will and won't do. For example, are you willing to let her go away for a long stretch, if the conditions are right? It might be late in this process, but a job at, say, a camp would involve income, a new experience and X weeks out of the house. If that's not realistic, then what outside-the-home pursuits are available to her in your town and might engage her attention and energy?

I believe strongly that a young adult who has demonstrated both a high need to be independent and an ability to handle that independence is best set as free as your family's circumstances allow. 

– April 12, 2013 12:39 PM
Q.

Relationships

Hello, I have been dating a woman now for about 6 months. She is a great person and has stated that she loves me in the past. However, recently (past 2 months) I am feeling that I am not a priority in her life. I feel as if I am number 3 or 4 on her things that are important to me list. I am not receiving what I need out of this relationship, but I don't want to hurt her. Should I attempt to work it out or tell her I would like to transition to being friends?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Why not just say what you said here?

– April 12, 2013 12:40 PM
Q.

Cheating husband moving home to mom

My husband of 28 years is (reluctantly) moving home to his widowed mom's house. I found out he's been having an affair for 2 1/2 yrs with a married woman who we've both known for 35 years. Our adult-age kids still live at home and are very angry with him. They can't wait for him to leave as they have other festering resentments against him. I don't know how I feel about him anymore. He doesn't want to leave and has sobbed heartfelt apologies to me but says it's really none of the kids business what happens between the two of us and that they shouldn't influence my feelings here. On the flip side, he admitted to me and the kids when we were all arguing that he'd still be having the affair if he hadn't been caught since she fills a need in him that I never have. My son blew up at him and told him to get the *!*# out of the house. He left for a few hours and has kept a low profile since. He says he'll be gone this weekend but he hopes we'll get back together as he truly loves me. I'm just numb and exhausted. I've been with him for 38 years and feel a loyalty to the relationship but I'm looking forward to some time alone. For some reason I feel guilty that he's hurting so much and the kids want nothing to do with him. We were in counseling a month prior to him getting caught where I feel like he lied by omission the entire time. How do I know what I'm to blame for and how to feel?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

I'm sorry, this sounds like a big fat painful mess.

There is logic to be had here, and, like a stair rail in a dark basement, it can lead you up and out if you can find it.

First, think about his most damaging statement: "he admitted to me and the kids when we were all arguing that he'd still be having the affair if he hadn't been caught since she fills a need in him that I never have." Yes, it's a smoking gun, but if you take the hurt feelings away, it's the biggest duh in the history of love. No one ever gets every need satisfied by a single relationship. I have zero doubt, and neither should you, that if the planets aligned you could stumble across someone who clearly provided some emotional nutrient missing from your diet from the entirety of your marriage.

And while you might pull yourself back from the brink of an affair, it's not hard to imagine that you'd imagine your way right to the brink, because that's what human emotions do. They become powerful-to-the-point-of-consuming motivators to get that missing thing.

Sympathy is so often the last thing you can imagine feeling for someone who just took a hammer to your comfort zone, but, wow, what a powerful example to your kids if you could say to them: "Your father did a rotten thing and I'm angry, but not so angry that I've forgotten he's human. Of course there was something missing from our marriage; every marriage is missing something. Do I wish he hadn't had an affair to find that missing thing? Obviously. But he did, and I owe it to myself most of all not to forget that he has been a good father, a good friend and a good husband for almost all of our time together. I will continue with this separation but I will not vilify him, and I hope you all can see your way to some kind of peace with the whole person your father is, and not just what he has done lately."

(more)

 

– April 12, 2013 12:56 PM
Q.

Carolyn Hax :

The point of all of this would not be to launch your career as your unfaithful husband's publicist, but to start the process of putting the smaller issues to rest--angry children, sobbing husband, the business of whose business your marriage is, even your loyalty to the relationship. Taking a position and indicating it's one that's not open to family debate will allow you to concentrate on settling into a new daily routine, and awaiting clarity. It will come, I'm sure of it, once you've removed yourself from the role of manager of everyone else's outrage and tears. 

Q.

Torn between husband and son

Couldn't son join an ROTC program while in college? He would still get training, potentially tuition reimbursement and be an officer when he graduates. Seems like it would be a good compromise.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Oh duh--of course. Thanks.

– April 12, 2013 1:02 PM
Q.

RE: Uberhobby

Just wanted to point out that there's a hidden blind spot in this question, which is assuming that your preferences on how you want to spend your free time will remain static once you have kids. You might find that you'd rather enjoy watching your kids fall all over themselves playing soccer than go dancing - or not. But be open to the possibility that what you want right now isn't what you'll want once you have kids. It's not all about sacrifice.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

True. However, having your priorities change like that isn't something you need to plan for, where accommodating a pre-kids priority often is.

– April 12, 2013 1:04 PM
Q.

RE: I would like to transition to being friends?

Please examine this statement. Do you genuinely want to be friends or are you doing it out of some obligation to not be the bad guy? I'd also add that whether or not you end up being friends isn't something you'll be able to unilaterally decide.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Good points both, thanks.

– April 12, 2013 1:04 PM
Q.

torn between husband and son

As a mom of a service member making his second overseas deployment (and I retired from the military after 25 years), your first question is right on the money. If the son is going to pull the trigger, he will just enlist. If he hasn't done that, I would just let the subject lay. Joining the military is a romantic notion...not born out by reality. I think the son likes the romance and the attention he is getting from his dad.

A.
Carolyn Hax :

Possible, thanks. 

– April 12, 2013 1:11 PM
Q.

Embarrassment of Riches

Hi Carolyn, I am extremely lucky to have a very large group of friends that span college, grad school, 20s living in the city, and now includes my spouse's group of friends. Now that I'm in my 30s and married with a house, family and a busier job, I am completely overwhelmed with keeping up with everyone. I would say about half of them have settled into the "grown-up" way of communicating lightly over phone and email and then doing our real catching up the 2-3 times a year we see each other in person. About 25 percent I see often, so the pressure to communicate outside of that isn't high. The remaining 25 percent are really persistent and some even shame me when I am slow to respond to calls and e-mails. I guess I am asking how to handle the persistent ones and shamers? I love them (really!), but I'm exhausted by constantly having to be in front of e-mail or on the phone during my relatively-limited leisure time. Traditionally, I was the one who put more effort into keeping in touch with most of the friends who married and had kids younger, so I get the sense that they still expect me to be the single, free friend that I was when we were younger. Thanks!
A.
Carolyn Hax :

The persistent, you give time to when you want to and can, and see whether they adjust to a new pace. Shamers, seeya. I was going to try to put that in a nicer way, but the two-word way better reflects your stage of life, which is one that forces you to ask yourself things like, "If I have time to call one person, will it be a person who uses guilt to get what s/he wants?"

– April 12, 2013 1:18 PM
Q.

stick with it?

have a friend who is dating a guy who has multiple habits that annoy her. Friends and I are in disagreement about whether she should stay with him (yes we know this is not our problem, and we are only supportive to her - this evolved into a hypothetical discussion). I believe that if after 2 or 3 dates, there are characteristics that are annoying and those are the ones she talks about, its doomed. They think you stick around for 2-3 months if this is a good person who really likes you, and see if the things that annoyed you stop annoying you. Thoughts?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Seems to me that's a fine way to fall for someone, then, two years later when the fairy dust rubs off, find yourself faced with an unbuffered set of habits you knew all along were extremely annoying to you. But that's just me.

To be fair, if it's just one nonessential thing about someone that doesn't enthrall you, then, sure, stick around to see whether the wonders of the whole person balance it out.

– April 12, 2013 1:28 PM
Q.

How to handle proximity to past abuser

Carolyn, A parent verbally and emotionally abused me many years ago when I was a minor; the other parent tacitly allowed it to happen. Because of all that, I have not been in very much contact with either person in my adulthood. Now, the enabler has passed away; due to a family circumstance, I will need to be in close proximity to the abuser for about a week. I believe I'm mature enough not to allow myself to be bullied. But are there any do's and don'ts for how to keep one's emotional equillibrium around bullies and abusive people who have tortured one in the past? Is that a crazy question?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

No, it's not, not at all. The most important thing I think you can do for your own well-being is to arrange for some reliable way to get away from the abuser whenever you need to. Stay somewhere else, for example; have your own transportation; have something you can escape into, be it a book or a favorite restaurant or an old friend or a way to stream a favorite show or movie. Stint on any of these things and you're granting the person more power than you need to. Take care of yourself, and good luck. 

– April 12, 2013 1:36 PM
Q.

Men Missing Women

It probably is unreasonable for me to expect my boyfriend to miss me as much as I miss him, right? I'm constantly thinking of the next time I get to hear his voice or see him (we live an hour and a half apart), and I'll usually text and/or email once or twice a day to check in/share something that reminded me of him. Too much? Do I need to back off? He likes hearing from me when I contact him, but some days (like today), if I don't check in with him, he doesn't contact me at all. Does he not miss me and is that a sign to worry? I've noticed that he usually manages to call up every 2 weeks to talk for an hour or so... and then ask me if he can come spend the night with me. (We've been together for 9 months FYI.)
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Why is it unreasonable--because men never miss women as much as women miss men? That sounds like an excellent strategy for rationalizing away doubts that someone appreciates you. 

People do show their appreciation in different ways, so it's also possible someone can be bonkers for you and still go a day without texting you.

Combine these two and it points to my begging you not to read these texts and calls as if they're tea leaves foretelling your future with this man. Tea leaves tell you want you want to hear; people tell you what they want to say. Does he treat you as if you're a valuable part of his life, or not? Check your gut, not your phone.  

– April 12, 2013 1:44 PM
Q.

Selfish to NOT Break Up?

I've been dating an amazing man for about 9-10 months now. It's a bit of an unconventional relationship (he's 15 years older and has been married before and has kids; I'm in my mid-20s and this is my first serious relationship) so we waited to see whether it could be serious before mentioning anything to my parents, whose permission we'd eventually (i.e. in a year or so from now) like to go forward. Problem: when I brought this up with my parents about 6 months in, my parents exploded. They hate this/him. They are now pretending I never mentioned anything and are trying to set me up with other guys. There has been yelling, tears, guilt trips, and all kinds of meanness directed at me, and my guy is losing heart. Do I keep trying to build our relationship? Or is the more humane thing to do is break up with him until (if?) my parents get on board? We don't want to go out a year from now and deal with deeper heartbreak of breaking up then if my parents are still threatening to disown me. We also both believe that marriage is between two families, so we wouldn't want to go forward if they still behave this way anyway. I don't know - help!
A.
Carolyn Hax :

No wonder you're attracted to an older man; your parents are acting like children.

1. Why would you want to appease people who have resorted to "yelling, tears, guilt trips, and all kinds of meanness directed at me"?

2. The idea that "marriage is between two families" is lovely and, to a degree, true--but how much of your day-to-day life involves your parents? Do you wake up to them, hear all about their days, watch movies with them on quiet nights at home, feel the ripples of their good days and bad days at work, envision your future with them ...? Family is so important, but over the course of your lifetime, your parents diminish from being all of your family picture, to about half of it, to a minority of it. The family you create, whatever form it takes, will become the main focus of your energy and, if you choose well and the actuarial tables hold true, sustain you after your parents are gone.

Perhaps they know this and that's why they're flipping out. However, knowing this would also demand that they admit and accept that they don't get to decide this for you, and that intruding too far into your business will cost them dearly if you stand up to them, and cost you dearly if you don't.

(more)

– April 12, 2013 1:56 PM
Q.

Carolyn Hax :

Because your parents' behavior has apparently been so bad, and because your tie to them is one at least in part of obedience, and because you're so torn, I don't think the answer to your question is about staying with or breaking up with your boyfriend at all. It's about your own emotional health.

If you have access to good counseling, please consider it. Mutual respect is what makes a good family go, and I see it running in only one direction in yours. Establishing some sense of understanding and balance in that fundamental relationship will give you a new degree of comprehension and confidence in the other important connections you make.

Q.

re How to handle proximity to past abuser

I, too, was abused, and one of the most insidious long-term effects was the decalibration (is that a real word?) of my is-this-reasonable sensors. For a long time there were some things that I took very personally, in the worst way possible. Other things, I didn't see as egregious as they really were and underreacted or defended the abuser -- probably figuring that I was overreacting again. If it's workable, I'd suggest the OP find someone mature and rational that s/he can bounce things off of. "Was what she said hateful or am I just being sensitive?"
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Excellent point, thank you. 

– April 12, 2013 2:05 PM
Q.

College Daughter

My daughter was hell on wheels when she would come home freshman year, hated the house, the neighbors, dinner choices, us ... Sophomore year was much better though summers were never fantastic until she started to travel most of them. Don't take it personally. Our only rule was she had to be respectful (i.e., you don't have to eat dinner with us but if you do, don't make those faces) and she had to either have at least a part-time job or travel. Molting was not an option. When I ask her now about it, she says she has no idea why it was like that but she was really miserable. Maybe it's an odd sort of growing pain. In any case, just remember, August isn't that far away!
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Yes, yes to the "only rule." Sounds as if molting would help, though, since the new skin might fit better. 

– April 12, 2013 2:07 PM
Q.

ROTC "compromise"

Um, since when are adults supposed to "compromise" with their parents on their life paths? The son should do what he wants and the father should accept that the son is his own man.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

On life paths, no, but on some of the details, when the young-adult child is not yet self-supporting, it's definitely more gray. This doesn't necessarily apply here, since enlisting would take the son off the family dole, and it's certainly not to be used as an endorsement for rescinding tuition when your child chooses to major in something that doesn't sufficiently impress you, but i thought it was a point worth making that it's not so black-and-white. Compromises with 18-to-20-year-olds are not uncommon and can be a useful tool for both the parent and young adult.

– April 12, 2013 2:13 PM
Q.

re: CHEATING HUSBAND

I experienced similar with my (now ex) husband, not wanting to leave, heartfelt sobs and blaming me for his infidelity, even going to marriage therapy at his request and the entire time he was TALKING this talk, he was WALKING to the affair partner. She is not to blame for his cheating, he needs to own that. And she is allowed to feel the pain of betrayal and feel some sympathy for herself.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Yes, thank you, I forgot to address the part of her question about blaming herself. 

– April 12, 2013 2:14 PM
Q.

ROTC doesnt' fix the problem

The son will still be in the service and, in the father's view, in danger, whether he's an officer or not. Moreover, the father will still be angry at his wife because she's not taking his side. Even "son is an adult and will make his own decision" doesn't change what it appears the father wants, and that's for his wife to help him talk his son out of the military. Anything short of that, he's still going to see as disloyalty on her part.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Thus my advice out of the gate, that they take this to a professional marital referee. Not that that will magically solve anything, but it will at least acknowledge it's about boundaries and the marriage and not the son or the military. Thanks.

– April 12, 2013 2:15 PM
Q.

stepdaughter

My father recently passed away. My adult stepdaughter, who has always been somewhat of a challenge, has known my father just about all her life, texted me a message of condolence. I am having a hard time with that. I know she is of the "social media "generation but isn't that taking it a bit too far?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

I urge you not to look for reasons to be disappointed in people--under these conditions especially, you will always, always find them. Instead, please look for reasons to be grateful. Your always-challenging stepdaughter thought of you and expressed her sympathy. That's all you need. 

I'm sorry for your loss. 

– April 12, 2013 2:18 PM
Q.

Stuck Overseas

For several years, my UK fiance and I have conducted a long distance relationship. In summer 2011, I had the opportunity to live with him. Based on that, we decided I'd come back to the States, wrap up my life here, apply for a visa and get married. I worked two jobs for 18 months to make this possible. I asked him repeatedly if he was sure. He always said yes. Now that I am here, now that I have given up everything, he wants me to go back to the States and wait a little longer so he can get his elderly, senile father sorted out. I'm all ... what? Go back to what? No job, no belongings, no ... nothing. I can hardly function on a daily basis, because of my inability to cope with this situation. I am not sure what you could say as an answer but any advice would be appreciated.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Well, wow. That's a kick in the chops.

You certainly don't want to stay where you're not welcome, and you certainly don't want to use the "fiance" label on someone whose interest in marrying you is apparently just theoretical. 

At the same time, you don't want to move "home" and start from scratch when you're not sure of your ability to think clearly and handle big logistics.

On impulse, I just Googled "jobs that include housing." A lot of them are resort-type work, which might have nothing to do with what you want in life, but this situation + 18 months of working two jobs has me thinking maybe resort-type beauty and a season of all-inclusive life might not be the worst thing as you collect yourself. Maybe? There are others, too--have a look.

Otherwise, it's go back to ... a place to crash for a few weeks, if you can find one, till you figure out a plan B. One or both of your old employers might even welcome you back, which will feel like something unprintable, but will at least get you some income while you regroup. 

– April 12, 2013 2:32 PM
Q.

The Only Good Driver for Miles

Dear Carolyn - My friends are bad drivers. I have repeatedly felt unsafe while in the passenger seat. During one trip (only from Georgetown to Silver Spring) I truly believe that it was only me shouting, "STOP!" that kept us from being in two messy wrecks. So I generally volunteer to drive. However, we're about to go on a long trip and I'm four months pregnant, and I don't know if they'll let me drive six hours each way, even though I'm fine with it. Is there a nice way to let them know that I'm not endangering my life and that in my uterus with them at the wheel?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

No, but as your uterus has probably already told you, "nice" isn't always the No. 1 priority. Congrats and good luck.

– April 12, 2013 2:34 PM
Q.

limits to supporting a child's college education

My child has been admitted to University of Virginia (in-state tuition) and many private universities that cost 3 times the price. Child wants private university "A" but we only qualify for loans as aid. I tell my child that he/she is now 18 and as an adult he/she can decide wherever he/she wants to go. But I am also an adult and refuse to pay more than UVA tuition. Child now believes I am the second coming of Satan himself. Am I?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Child can take out the loans if this is so important to Child. Child also can make a written case to you why "A" will serve Child better than UVA--I'm thinking a specific program that interests Child, but it doesn't have to be limited to that; this is more about forcing Child to think beyond image and "I want" to "this is who I am and this is what suits my interests and abilities"--upon receipt of which you will agree to reconsider (without promises). make Child do the research.

– April 12, 2013 2:39 PM
Q.

Post Breakup Communication

Carolyn: A years-long relationship with a man I was sure would be my husband ended badly. Badly, as in, one day he just never spoke to me again. At all. No cheating (that I know of), no huge fight, nothing that would've merited that treatment. I'd spent holidays with his out of town family and vice-versa, we'd been on vacations together, hosted parties together, you name it. It crushed me, to the point that I sought counseling. Out of the blue, I started hearing from him via email/text many months later. No real apology, no genuine interest in my life- just references to old jokes and memories. He knows very well how much he hurt me. My instinct is to cut this communication off completely, since it doesn't seem like a sincere effort to be kind or express regret. It's much harder than I thought to do this, b/c I haven't completely moved on despite trying very hard, and he was truly my best friend-- until one day he wasn't. I think I know the answer to this question-- but nothing good can come from entertaining this communication, right? My brain knows that he probably can't ever be the right guy for me now, but I'm amazed at how long my heart wants to hold on to the notion that a miracle could happen and change that- and enjoy the witty banter in the meantime.
A.
Carolyn Hax :

Cut it off, please, for your own health, and explain that unless and until he's willing to talk to you about what he did, you're not interested in staying in touch. 

– April 12, 2013 2:44 PM
Q.

Smother-in-Law

Here's a problem you might not get too much: in-laws who are too nice. My stay-at-home husband's mother calls him around once a day, sometimes more. Every time he and my daughter go to visit (about weekly), they insist on sending things back with them that we don't want, usually foods that we're trying to avoid. Each of these gifts requires a special phone call of thanks from me personally, usually when I am coming home from a long day of work, and which then turns into a lengthy chat. My in-laws want phone calls anytime we travel long distances or in bad weather, just to be sure we're safe, and they get annoyed when we forget. They keep track of our kids' doctor's appointments so they can call shortly afterwards to ask how everything went and write down the numbers. My question is, is there a polite way to get them to back off, just a little? We love them and appreciate that they are always there for us, but it's just too much of an emotional burden to handle their anxieties about our everyday life. My mother-in-law is very sensitive, and when we've tried to have similar talks with her before (e.g., not giving gifts to the kids every time they see them), she is very hurt and feels we don't want her around. How do we convey sensitively that involvement in our lives doesn't have to include every little detail?
A.
Carolyn Hax :

This is a problem I get every stinkin day; I just don't see too many people calling it "nice."

Everything you describe points to a mother-in-law who is controlling, manipulative, insecure, boundary-challenged and badly in need of a step-off message from her son. 

Is he as uncomfortable with this as you are? Is he ready to take her on and set some limits, or has he too bought into the "nice" canard and is therefore fearful he's being an ungrateful son?

If it's the latter, then he might need to do some reading on boundaries and control ("Gift of Fear" will seem like a loopy rec for a fussy mom, but it's actually square on point), and if that doesn't stick then I suggest he give counseling a go.

If it's the former, then, lucky for you both. It's not going to be pretty, and he's going to have to be kind and sunny and absolutely immovable on these:

-Screening her calls. He needs to decide how often he wants to speak to her, and call her himself at those interevals, and not budge except in emergencies and when he feels the new normal has been established. 

-Saving your "we made it home okay!" calls for when there's some doubt. (Bad weather, for example.)

-Supporting you when you say "Thank you" as you see fit--by note, email, and the occasional call when you're up for a chat.

-Realizing that these things will set off waves of "you don't love me!" hurt feelings, and realizing that this does not incur an obligation to appease her or give her what she wants. "I love you, Mom, this is just the way I'd like to do things from now on," is all he needs to do, until it takes.

(more)

 

 

– April 12, 2013 2:59 PM
Q.

Carolyn Hax :

These are optional:

-Not sharing appointment times. If this is a bone you want to throw her/them, then go ahead, but it has to stop here. Take the call, give them the info, then go back to the New Normal plan. If you and your husband want to stop these calls, though, then do, and stop sharing appointment times. "When there's something to report, we'll let you know," or shoot them a nice card with all the numbers (I assume you mean tracking the kids' growth, right?).

-Stopping the gifts. This is an area where you might find it easier to cut corners by accepting the unwanted stuff and sorting it into keep-donate-chuck piles. It's still probably worth some effort to minimize it ("Our home runneth over, and we hate to see you send money on things we can't keep") or channel it (preemptively: "If you're looking for something for the kids, or if you're at the store this week, they need new socks--all of theirs suddenly have holes," or, "The kids loved those X you gave them a while back--would you be willing to share the recipe, or make it again?"). The latter allows them the chance to contribute the way they like to contribute -and- the way you like to receive.

It won;t work, of course, if the goal is to undermine (' usually foods that we're trying to avoid"?), but it's worth trying before you start the smile-"thanks!"-chuck show. 


Q.

Carolyn Hax :

That took way longer than i thought (lots of them did today, sorry about the many multi-step answers), and now I have to run. Bye, thanks, happy weekend and type to you here next week. 

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